Friday, August 31, 2012

Ahronovitz eyes robotic future - Rocklin

This is part of series of articles covering the creation employment opportunities for highly functional autistic  spectrum people. See also  Autism and Entrepreneurship

Ahronovitz eyes robotic future 

Whitney High grad lives with autism; will attend Sierra College's Mechatronics Program 

Amanda Calzada, Placer Herald Correspondent 

Assembling a 2,000-piece Lego structure, using a drawing for inspiration, poses no challenge for 18-year-old David Ahronovitz, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
“Fifty percent of normal people don’t have his ability to see in space,” explained his father, Miha Ahronovitz, who believes his son’s visual learning style will help him succeed in Sierra College’s Mechatronics program.

The Whitney High School graduate’s certificate of completion grants him entrance into the community college program to study systems involving electronics, mechanics, and computer control through logical sequences.

Although Mechatronics experts usually engineer ATMs, ski lifts or lab equipment, robotics is the application that most interests Ahronovitz.

“I programmed the color,” said the young man, who now programs computer lighting, but looks forward to working in the robotics field.

His son’s performance accuracy combined with information learned during a conference, “Driving Forces Behind Post-Secondary Education and Employment for Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism,” inspired his father to begin a blog about employment opportunities for individuals living with autism.

Miha Ahronovitz sees the Silicon Valley, the “world hub of entrepreneurship,” as the place to cultivate employment opportunities for autistics so they can be integrated appropriately and sensitively into the mainstream.

Through his blog ( Miha Ahronovitz hopes to inspire the creation of jobs that would utilize the special skills of high functioning autistic individuals at entities like Google, Facebook, and Oracle.

“We cannot force nature to make them be as we want,” he wrote in his blog. “The sensitive approach is to create for them environments where they feel comfortable the way they are naturally.”

Ahronovitz noted that individuals like his son can transfer a higher rate of electronic data than the average person as well as master software quality assurance.

He stressed that his son’s visual abilities are an asset.

Albeit a low score on the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) exam’s verbal IQ section, David Ahronovitz’ performance IQ of 98 places him among the average percentile of the population for fluid reasoning, spatial processing, attentiveness to visual detail, and visual-motor integration.

David does have some limitations. While he does not like to drive, his parents call him a “human GPS” because of his strong sense of direction.

But, he will search for points of interest on his Android phone and keeps his parents up to date on the movie schedule for the local theater.

He enjoys going to the movies with his father and has memorized all of the Harry Potter books.

Unlike most teenagers, David keeps his bedroom in pristine order.

Miha Ahronovitz describes David’s obsession for perfection as something that could be “channeled to be highly productive in the right enterprise.”

“People in our society feel like it’s a disease and it’s not,” said Ahronovitz’s mother, Regina, who worked with an early intervention program for autistic children in the Bay area.

The family decided to leave the Bay Area and settle in Placer County after David was diagnosed at age 4. They find Placer County’s services for autistics much more effective than those of the Bay Area, especially the services provided through the Rocklin Unified School District’s Special Education and Speech Therapy programs.

David Ahronovitz has earned positive comments from teachers over the years for his pleasant personality, compliance, and tolerance of change in the classroom.

While at Whitney High School, he attended a social skills training program offered through the UC Davis M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute. The program is designed to teach autistics how to converse over the telephone, socialize, and build good relationships with peers. The program endorses empathy as a tool for attendees to connect with others at home or in the workforce.

“If you realize they are different, they will be much more successful than if you don’t,” said Miha Ahronovitz.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Michelle Ahronovitz on Nir Eyal's "Creating Desire"

The Memories of a Product Manager has its' first guest blogger.
Michelle Ahronovitz is a fourth year psychobiology student at UC Davis. She is currently a Research Assistant at the MIND Institute in Sacramento, focusing on Autism research and spent the last summer serving a preceptorship in psychiatry at St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta. 

I always used to think business was confusing. Frequently, I would read my dad's blogs and become mixed up over all the specific terminology. But a quick peruse of issues of HBR and my most recent experience of attending Lean Start-Up Circle's event with Nir Eyal titled "Building a Desire Engine" and I realized something. Business is merely an extension of psychology.

The premise of Thursday's presentation is simple enough: how do you make a product that is not only desirable, but, after a given amount of time, habitual. Eyal presented the 100+ audience with well-known examples such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Being a 20-something college student, these products are a fundamental part of my social media/social life experience. There are two ways I view this dependency: as a consumer, I am considered a success story for these companies. As a psychology student, it is a fundmental example of classic theories.

Eyal addresses these theories throughout his presentation even citing studies done by researchers at Stanford University where he lectures. (Personal side note: Stanford University's psychology department has produced some of most predominant studies in psychology and I frequently see them referred to in my lectures).

A classic example of Eyal's psychology application to creating a desirable product is his illustration of a "desire engine."

There two kinds of triggers: external and internal. This is a topic frequently covered in psychology, the most obvious that comes to mind is intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. Levels of intrinsic motivation (and I would not be surprised if there was a connection to susceptibility to triggers) are determined early in life. A famous study that demonstrates this is known amongst psychologists as the Marshmallow Experiment (conducted - where else? - Stanford University.) The basic gist is that intrinsic motivation is inherently defined in the self and as a child can accurately predict levels of intrinsic motivation and delayed gratification during adulthood. 

When the trigger is strong enough, however, it can break even the strongest delayers of gratification as demonstrated by the Fogg Behavior Model.

As Eyal shared during his presentation, that formula looks scary and mathematical, but all it's really saying is that behavior is a combination of motivation, ability and triggers. The position of triggers indicate that in order for a behavior to occur, the trigger must exceed the ability/motivation curve due to some combination of the two. 

Now we understand the contributing factors, so where does the motivation come from? Why do we feel the need to obsessively check our e-mails, phones, Facebooks? I did not have this inherent need as a 10 year old, so where does this come from? 

These three factors dictate how behavior is encouraged and it is the same in psychology: we seek satisfaction for ourselves (this is one of the basises of Freudian psychology, but I won't discuss that here), but as humans are also an inherently social species, we seek social gratification at every turn. These successful products provide us with the social gratification. But more than that, they leave us craving MORE.

The mechanism of the "want" can be explained by classic behaviorist  and social psychology theory, which I will briefly describe.

The first (very historical) example that was used in the presentation is that of Skinner's Box as an example of effectiveness in scheduling of reward with training a specific behavior. 

B.F. Skinner put rats in a cage that contained a lever and a machine that released pellets of food. When the pellets where released on a fixed interval (after a certain amount of time), after a few hits of the lever, the rat left it alone. This is because the rat figured out that regardless of a pushing the lever, food would come. When the food came on a variable interval though (unpredictable), the rat pushed the lever almost incessantly because it was unable to determine whether the lever was responsible for making the food come or not. 

Sounds like a silly experiment, but think about it: when you receive an e-mail, a response on Twitter, or a notification on Facebook - do you know when it's coming? And once you receive it, do you simply check it and log off? No. You sit there and you peruse. Referring back to the second diagram in my post, this is what Eyal referred to when he was discussing variable reward.

Now we come to the last turn of the wheel of desirability, the component that keeps us all in it for the long haul: investment. We don't merely use these resources, we are invested in them. This is social psychology in action! How, you ask?

Eyal gave several psychological study examples to drive this point home, but the basis of it was what social psychologists refer to as "the foot in the door" technique. It is best explained through example:

Imagine someone knocks on your door and asks you, "Good afternoon, might you be willing to donate $50 to [insert noble cause here]?" What is your immediate reaction? "Sorrynothanksgoodbye" and you promptly slam the door in their face.

Now what if they had started out with "Good afternoon, I'd like to tell you about [insert noble cause here]." And after a few minutes of schmoozing you and pulling at your heartstrings, they ask for a donation. Whether your common sense allows you to think so or not, statistically, you are much more likely to make a donation in this instance. 

This is the most basic explanation, but as Eyal demonstrated it is easily applied to the products, services and applications we use today. 

Using these simple, time-tested techniques of psychology and a greater understanding of the human mind, people like Nir Eyal are developing products that society not only wants and needs, but cannot live without. He is an example of a facilitator. His final slide of the night gave a solid piece of advice for all the entrepreneurs out there striving to attain this:

Psychology isn't a mystery or a secret, it's who we are. Attempt to understand that and you're well on your way to making the next desirable product.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Architexa, Pivotal Tracker and the need for customer magnets

When you write book, a thriller, you need a diagram, to make sense of what is going on

If you are coder,  an engineer writing a Java application - for example - the question is what you  code?

 Rimbaud calls poetry "the derangement of all senses". If you are customer ordering a software from developers might feel as talking to Rimbaud prototypes, some unique not  replaceable creators who see an invisible world.
I say it is necessary to be a voyant, make oneself a voyant. The Poet makes himself a voyant by a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses.
The best way to write a code is like a thriller, where every detail is well placed to create the whole plot. Essentially you need a story where - clients - the people who pay for the project place their desire and make sure the developers understand them. Pivotal Labs has an exciting tool, called Pivotal Tracker that achieve this elegance.
Start your project by breaking down user features into small concrete user stories. Each story is bite size, about what might fit on a small index card, and represents an increment of value for your product's customer. Deconstructing your project into concrete stories can be enlightening, and gets your entire team on the same page what's really important about your project.
Architexa provides a fantastic tool that takes over from the User Story, by visualizing all the code on a sketchpad. I am not a coder, but here is 2:45 minutes video explaining what they do.

 These three diagrams below summarize what you saw in the video
You got it? Don't worry if you didn't, you are not the only ones. You must be a programmer to really appreciate the power and genius behind Architexa.

Vineet Sinha, Architexa's founder and CEO was interviewed a year ago. He said:
I did a PhD at MIT looking at the problem of diagramming code, trying to understand how to do it right.  When I finished my PhD I presented my work at a conference.  The first question was from a developer who said “I’ve been waiting for this all my life, where can I get it?” I knew then that I had to make this available to everyone.
The biggest challenge from an engineering point of view was:
 Most diagramming tools focus on design only – they try to help you at the beginning of a project before you’ve started coding. We instead focus on all the tasks that need to be done when you’re working with real code. And we realize that software developers need better collaborative capabilities around their diagrams, they need to find their diagrams more easily (straight from their code), and they need more support for the frameworks they are using like Spring, Struts, and so on.
Here is the very issue. While Architexa is a an elegant solution for developers, the developers themselves need customers who pay for their salaries, bonuses, profits and offer opportunities for new business and ventures. Architexa by itself needs the gasoline, which metaphorically is a portal to attract and communicate the wishes and budgets of their customers. A portal that makes easy for clients to understand. A customer magnet, if you wish.All diagrams generated should start from there.

So here is what  Flowtown's Co-Founder and CEO Ethan Bloch, a customer, says about Pivotal Tracker

Developer tools are niche markets. After a while, the business is harder and harder to grow. It needs a customer magnet, that one that makes them pull out the wallets and pay. People almost never pay for things they don't understand.

Architexa beginnings are as a star of the ivy league business plan competitions. The were semi-finalists in "the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition is one of the premier business plan competitions", and a finalist in the "MassChallenge,  a global competition seeking to find ventures making a big impact".

Fedex, the juggernaut success story started when founder Fred Smith made a paper on  the idea of an overnight-delivery service -- and he received a C from a  professor. Fred was an undergraduate student, he never made it to the graduate school.

Today we know why, from the teachings of Steve Blank et al.:
Startups do not execute business plans, they go from failure to failure until they define themselves. Startups are not versions of larger companies. A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for repeatable and scalable business models

Architexa has as an innovative product that amazes many developers, but now there is a need to make a new business. This means that have to experiment with a few alternatives, until they pivot to a final set of products from a business perspective.  Superb engineering can not achieve this by itself.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Creating desire : Nir Eyal

Watch this video.

 I am attending Nir Eyal Meetup Creating a Desire Engine for Your Startup in San Francisco,  August 23 2012 . It all starts by building something users want.Something with a lot of engagement. Its a natural continuation of this quest to learn who wants what you make and 2nd how they become "addicted" to  you disguised as a product. Media stars have done this for years

This shows an incredible sophistication in product management. Product Management is changing focus from the product itself, to the interaction with the right user populations

I will follow up with a post after the meetup

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tristan Kromer's Customer Development and User Experience

Who is Tristan Kromer? According to his self-portrait
I poke, prod, and question startups. I've spent 3 years in Silicon Valley as a lean startup advocate, spent 10 in the music industry, worked 5 in IT security, lived in 5 different countries, and studied both philosophy and business (separately).
This "separately" is superfluous. With a few differences almost all in the Meetup room Wednesday evening in San Francisco  was like a carbon copy of Tristan. Just replace "music" with "fiction writing" and "IT security" with "Cloud Computing" and instead of 5 different countries, what about 6 different passports and here I am, yours truly. Not a single corporate envoy in this meetup.

Tristan does not believe in words. He believes in pictures. He also believes we can all draw.

You are a techie or not, you have the greatest idea that does this, and that. and is beautiful, and elegant. You start building the idea, but there is little insignificant problem. Who needs it? You don't want to build the wrong stuff.

You start building without meeting and discovering the people who will pull out wallets and pay you with pleasure and easily. Each day you do nothing, the risk of building the wrong stuff increases more and more

You need to assume , via an hypothesis. Who the right audience will be. You assign some metric and then you experiment

You need a strategy to bring the risk down over time. You ask, get answers, infer what to improve until you give people what they want. Now what they want is not what they tell you. You must use your expanded consciousness, in plain words, to read them beyond the words they say.
This is a four square to describe facts and demographics, behavior and personal goals (yes personal, not company goals or slogans or platitude). If the personal goal is to get married and have children, write it down. Things like "I want to contribute to the success of my company" is corporate babble.

Now the Figure 4 is nothing but the dry product of our imagination. This is when we go out of the building, and  have conversations where we embed these and other questions, without  being conspicuous
  • What challenges you
  • How do you cope today
  • How do keep track of your lateral thoughts
  • What question I should have asked and I didn't
The whole process described above is disarmingly simple. Yet, I am amazed on how few people were doing this. One of the reasons large companies make even more mistakes, is because they can afford them and because they are not humble. And when one is not humble, the spirit of prophecy is gone.
Everyone in the room wanted to become or continue as an entrepreneur, Not everyone has the risk tolerance for it. Like swimming, one must start by falling in the water. You either swim or else.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Customer Development Manifesto

There is a simple explanation why so many businesses fail. Because they did not do their homework, according to the new management practical system devised by Steve Blank et. al. You don't give a damn about business plan and you pivot as below:

Diagram from  Steve Blank blog  

The following bullet list  is from the Steve Blank blog

A Startup Is a Temporary Organization Designed to Search for A Repeatable and Scalable Business Model

  1. There Are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside
  2. Pair Customer Development with Agile Development
  3. Failure is an Integral Part of the Search for the Business Model
  4. If You’re Afraid to Fail You’re Destined to Do So
  5. Iterations and Pivots are Driven by Insight
  6. Validate Your Hypotheses with Experiments
  7. Success Begins with Buy-In from Investors and Co-Founders
  8. No Business Plan Survives First Contact with Customers
  9. Not All Startups Are Alike
  10. Startup Metrics are Different from Existing Companies
  11. Agree on Market Type – It Changes Everything
  12. Fast, Fearless Decision-Making, Cycle Time, Speed and Tempo
  13. If it’s not About Passion, You’re Dead the Day You Opened your Doors
  14. Startup Titles and Functions Are Very Different from a Company’s
  15. Preserve Cash While Searching. After It’s Found, Spend
  16. Communicate and Share Learning
  17. Startups Demand Comfort with Chaos and Uncertainty
You can also pay $19.50 to buy a paper poster in your desk, office,  bathrooms or you can bookmark this page.

There isa  certain haughtiness in start ups who think the vision of the founders is sufficient. Sometimes it is. Most times is not. Large companies , now that they need to be entrepreneurial in building constantly new services, will find the 17 bullets inspiring. See also my blog about Yahoo's new CEO 

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